Mob Psycho 100 is an anime that satirizes shonen stories (action anime/manga aimed at boys), pulls them apart, and actually uses their tropes as tools for didactic story telling. With Mob, those dumb action tropes don’t have to be just that, they could also be used as examples as to how one should or shouldn’t live their lives. Cocky guys with super powers that think they’re better than everyone are depicted as deeply insecure, supervillains who want to take over the world aren’t fearsome killers, but are actually manchildren that failed to grow up, and those musclebound jocks that spend all day working out aren’t mean bullies, but are instead people worth admiring because of their desire to improve themselves. That’s what Mob Psycho is at its core, it cuts through the superficiality that defines the shonen genre, and actually arrives at the morals of hard work and teamwork naturally and in a surprisingly grounded way considering its a show about psychics.
The protagonist of the series, nicknamed Mob, is a kid with unbelievable psychic powers. A running gag in the show is that he’s so powerful that most of the big bad villains he fights are taken out within moments. His problem isn’t that he needs to get stronger, his issue has to do with his personality. Mob’s central personality trait is that he’s a nice guy, but he’s extremely shy, unambitious, and really out of shape. He’s got a crush on who he considers to be the prettiest girl in his middle school, but she shows no interest in him. He’s got incredible psychic powers but she doesn’t really care too much about them, because Mob as a person is pretty unimpressive. He’s too shy to be personable, and he lives in a manga where being strong isn’t a substitute for being an admirable person. Most shonen stories feature protagonist who’s only ambition is to get stronger, and the things he wants, like status and the woman of his dreams, usually come along the way. But that isn’t exactly what guys should be learning, so Mob does something fascinating. It takes a character that’s already as strong as can be, lures boys in with spectacular actions scenes, and teaches them that the only way to get the things they want in life is to improve as a person. Being a “nice guy” with cool tricks isn’t enough, you gotta work on yourself and put the effort in to get anywhere. Be more personable, try to stay in shape, make an effort to seem like you give a damn. Nowhere is this more emphasized with the series villains, who are hilarious caricatures of everything wrong with shonen story telling.
*Warning: the following paragraph contains spoilers to this show’s finale*
The bad guys in Mob Psycho are basically a terrorist organization consisting of people with psychic powers bent on taking over the world. They have a special gift that others don’t so they’ve convinced themselves that they are superior by virtue of that alone. The irony of course isn’t just that they are evil, but they are actually deeply unimpressive people when you look beyond the surface level. No different than any developmentally stunted manchild with guns who have caused so much trouble throughout history. Nowhere is that made more clear than in the show’s brilliant finale, where Reigen, the protagonist’s mentor/father figure and a paradoxically benevolent con artist with no powers of his own, gains access to Mob’s power and dismantles a division of this terrorist organization all by himself. In this brilliant sequence, a normal man with only the power of maturity and self-actualization, takes on supervillains who once seemed fearsome and breaks them down until they are reduced to being the whiny children that they are. Reigen may not have any real intention to hurt them, but his true words about how pathetic these psychic villains are being cuts deeper than any blade strike you’d see in a straightforward shonen series. And the show does all this on the back of a shocking trope subversion that I won’t dare reveal here (I mean, I already spoiled a great deal of the final episode, but to spoil the setup that precedes it is truly the crime).
*End of Spoilers*
Having the capacity to hurt other people doesn’t make you powerful, needing to have talents to feel special doesn’t make you unique, and being just a nice guy won’t make you popular or desirable to the opposite sex if you don’t learn to engage with other people. These are the lessons Mob is concerned with, not who has the highest power level or how having friends makes you stronger than the bad guys. Mob doesn’t just tell you that the power of friendship is the greatest thing in the world and leaves it at that, it also tells you why it’s important to develop these connections, and more importantly, why it’s important to develop yourself as a person. The jocks who spend all day working out and getting in shape aren’t depicted as admirable because they can kick your ass, but because they genuinely want to improve themselves and are extremely encouraging towards those who wish to do the same. The cool kids aren’t always jerks, and nerds aren’t great people who are owed other people’s attention just because they are “nice”. I can’t stress enough how badly the anime and “nerd” crowd needs to hear these lessons.
Mob Psycho 100 is a show that plays with the familiar tropes of anime and then constantly subverts them until you’re watching a grounded story about personal growth and self-improvement. The fact that it’s also hilarious and sports amazing action scenes and animation is a bonus, but for anyone on the fence about watching this show or about anime in general, don’t be, you owe it to yourself to watch this.
Quote of the Day:
“If everyone is not special, Maybe you can be what you want to be”
– The opening lyrics of the Mob Psycho 100 opening song, which also happens to be brilliant and amazing in its own right. The lyrics here succinctly sum up the show’s moral in just a couple of lines: Don’t obsess over comparing your “power” to others, just focus on improving yourself as a person.